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Secular norms of managerial rationality disregard God’s involvement in organizations. If we acknowledge that God is present and active in social organizing, how do our understandings and practices of entrepreneurship and management change? Such a perspective reconceives organizing as collaborating with the Spirit of God. This article describes the Spirit’s role in organizing social systems by drawing from Christian pneumatology (theology of the Spirit). Three interrelated facets characterize the Spirit’s work: (1) divine-human and social relationality, (2) strategies linked to God’s ongoing mission, and (3) illumination for practical guidance. The Spirit’s multifaceted role in organizing motivates attentiveness to the Spirit and managerial practices expressing charismatic spirituality. This spirituality focuses on an experiential relationship with the Spirit, rather than management principles—either secular or biblical. Kent D. Miller is Professor of Management at Michigan State University.

Portrayals of organizing as managerial or entrepreneurial work generally adopt a secular perspective that excludes God from consideration. Modernist emphases on skepticism, rather than faith, and naturalism support secularity in scholarly work in general and in the management field in particular. As a result, even research on spirituality in the field of management seldom refers directly to God.1 The prevailing approach to management characterizes organizing as a sociomaterial phenomenon and never anything more.2 The assumption of God’s irrelevance characterizes managerial rationality in contemporary understanding and practice. Operating in this milieu and susceptible to its influence, Christians can succumb to managing in conformity to secular norms of rationality or mere obedience to rules and principles, rather than being motivated, guided, and enabled by God. In Pauline terminology, we often manage according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit.3 Even focusing on Biblical management principles can fall short of a dynamic relationship with the Spirit.

This study offers a contrasting perspective—organizing with the Spirit—that acknowledges divine agency in human organizing. “Spirit” (with a capital S) intends an understanding of God as personally present with and powerfully active to bring into being, sustain, and transform all creation, including people.4 By being present and active in the natural and social realms, God’s Spirit has empirical and practical significance. Throughout the Bible, we find God working with people to organize social relationships of all kinds: familial, political, ecclesial, military, and commercial. Reorganizing social life is both a means and an expression of God’s salvation. God’s redemptive work transforms social relationships and God works through transformed relationships to extend redemption to others. The reign of God unfolds through ongoing social embodiment.5

Appreciating God’s intention and involvement in human affairs, this study focuses on the Spirit’s particular relevance for founding and managing organizations. Acknowledging the Spirit’s presence and enabling, we can begin to envision the entrepreneurial and managerial work of organizing as an expression of synergistic divine-human collaboration. A spirituality that acknowledges the Spirit’s presence and agency in organizations contrasts with other forms of workplace spirituality grounded in members’ personal and collective identities.

Working from Christian theologies of the Spirit across diverse traditions, this article addresses the Spirit’s essential role in organizing social systems. Three interrelated facets characterize the Spirit’s work among people: (1) divine-human and social relationality, (2) strategies linked to God’s ongoing mission, and (3) illumination for practical guidance. A final section discusses implications for managerial spirituality. Focusing on the Spirit’s role in social systems supports a social imaginary centered on divine-human interaction and spiritual practices expressing cooperation with the Spirit.

Prospects for Reimagining Organizing as Collaboration with the Spirit

Although rarely acknowledged explicitly, secularism is an implicit norm for management research. Sørensen et al. contend, “The field of organization studies is presumably still dominated by August Comte’s idea of a sociology which, being the ‘Queen of all sciences’, would put an end to theology and replace it with a secular science.”6 Kim, McCalman, and Fisher trace normative secularism in the field of management to the historical ascent of philosophical modernism in Western culture.7 Modernism distinguishes secular and sacred experiences and grants public truth status to the former but not to the latter. Modernist tendencies to privilege the secular and exclude the sacred have shaped management theory and practice. Positing God’s Spirit as an actor in the process of organizing is, in modernist terms, to posit a non-explanation devoid of empirical and practical relevance. The possibility of divine-human encounters within the process of organizing remains largely inadmissible and therefore unexplored in management and organization theory.

Case, French, and Simpson explain the history of secularization by contrasting theoria as practiced by the ancient Greeks with theory as understood today: “Both terms are concerned with attaining knowledge but the primary focus of theoria, the knowledge of the divine, has not merely gone, it is excluded by dominant organizational discourses.”8 Case et al. highlight “how the secularization of the theological concept of theoria defines in a profound manner the limits and possibilities of thinking and theorizing work and organization.”9 Their review of research on workplace spirituality and spiritual leadership illustrates this claim. Their criticism of prior research focuses on the reduction of spirituality to a measurable construct for the sake of testing empirical relations with other organizational variables. They particularly criticize prior researchers for (a) defining and measuring spirituality in ways that reduce, miss, and largely negate the phenomenon and (b) viewing spirituality instrumentally in terms of its relation to organizational performance.

Western culture for the most part has transitioned from an earlier Christendom era, when social organizing under divine influence was normative, to an era in which organizing with divine influence generally is inconceivable. Although organizations still reflect historical conditioning from the earlier era in their language, rituals, and structures, these features often have lost their sacred meanings.10 Even religious organizations often turn to secular management practices and literature to address organizational matters. For many people, religion and spirituality remain potent in their personal lives but they consider the realm of social life—in which collective economic and political organizing takes place—to be a secular space.11 What matters in public life are the goals of collections of individuals and, when engaging in social organizing, there is little legitimacy to support recourse to a will or purpose outside the human.

This loss of a shared sense of God’s ontic presence in the world is a defining feature of the modern social imaginary. According to Charles Taylor, a social imaginary is how “people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, their expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.”12 Theories—such as those developed by management researchers—can enter and influence the social imaginary, but the social imaginary is never reducible to theory. We primarily share imaginaries through performed actions, images, and narratives. Social imaginaries operate more implicitly than explicitly, and affectively as well as cognitively. By defining our sense of what is real and what is desirable, social imaginaries enable and constrain the possibilities for collective organizing that we conceive and enact.

The historical shift in the social imaginary to support secularity in public life seemingly rules out consideration of organizing with the Spirit as an option, yet a sense of loss accompanies this resignation to organizing alone. The malaise associated with a sense of God’s absence can motivate people to reaffirm spirituality—if not the presence of the divine—in social life. This often is done through personal and interpersonal expressions that relate spirituality to individual and group identity. Taylor describes this as an “identity form” of spirituality that contrasts with an understanding of the world as a site of divine presence.13 Much of the recent emphasis on spirituality in the field of management may be explained in this way: in response to the loss of the Spirit, people reassert spirituality in organizations. In management literature, we observe growth in research on organizational spirituality but a dearth of references to God’s Spirit.14

In the present context—one of secularity and an accompanying plurality of spiritualities—how might we go about reimagining managing as organizing with the Spirit? The response offered here is to articulate the Christian tradition with a distinct emphasis on the role of the Spirit in social organizing. As a method, this study draws upon Christian pneumatology (theology of the Spirit) with a particular interest in its implications for management and organizations. Pneumatology is a broad and varied subject encompassing the Spirit’s nature and work, and diverse human experiences of the Spirit.15 Recognizing the ecumenical potential in focusing on the Spirit,16 this study takes an inclusive approach to the pneumatology literature that emphasizes points of convergence and complementarity across varied traditions. Despite the diversity within this literature,

Our expectation will be that there will be certain common sources from which they draw, a certain dependence upon one another, with a degree of mutual inspiration and certain parameters within which their descriptions fall, sufficient to justify our acceptance of them within the discipline of pneumatology.17

Adopting this ecumenical perspective, this article draws upon Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sources.

The evidence that informs pneumatology includes testimonies to the nature and activity of the Spirit within the biblical record, elsewhere in history, and in contemporary experience. Witnesses posit the Spirit as the best available explanation for specific lived experiences—whether extraordinary or everyday occurrences.18 To speak of the Spirit is to work within this interpretive tradition.19 Wallace notes, “To think the Spirit beyond the confines of secularism or metaphysics is to put into play a rhetorical notion of the Spirit in relation to the structures of lived existence.”20 To limit its length, this study does not delve into the specific biblical and historical details but instead draws upon the work of theologians who have done so previously.

Volf’s theology of work serves as an important precedent for this study.21 Volf starts from an understanding of work as an aspect of human life in the Spirit. By taking a pneumatological perspective, Volf seeks to shift the focus of Christian theological discussions of work from vocation to charisma. Vocation indicates divine calling to particular work whereas charisma includes the Spirit’s direction, inspiration, and enabling to accomplish work. Drawing from biblical material and theology, and making connections to social theories of work, Volf develops a portrayal of work as cooperation with the Spirit. Such work—even when seemingly mundane—involves the worker in God’s larger intention for the world. However, not all work conforms to this ideal; work can be done apart from submission to the Spirit’s guidance and even in opposition to divine intention. Hence, work as cooperation with the Spirit is a normative theological perspective, not a general description of work. Such a theology can function affirmatively or critically when brought to work settings. These considerations from Volf’s research apply to the present study. The chief difference, and the basis of this study’s unique contribution, is a shift in the level of analysis from the individual worker to the collective work accomplished through organizations.

Further background for understanding divine-human cooperation in collective organizing can be found at the intersection of pneumatology and ecclesiology (theology of the Church). A pneumatological orientation toward the Church highlights the Spirit’s role in forming the Church and enabling its collective life and work.22 As discussed below under the theme of relationality, the Spirit provides both charisms and structure for organizing the Church. The Spirit promotes koinonia (communion) based on diversity with complementarity among people.23 This work of the Spirit in organizing social relationships is not confined to the institutional Church. Seeing the relevance of pneumatology for organizations in general opens the direction taken in this article.

The Spirit’s Organizing: Relationality, Mission, and Illumination

Hebrew Scripture recounts instances in which the Spirit’s power came upon people to enable them to perform powerful works for the salvation of Israel.24 The Spirit gave people prophetic guidance and authority to lead in spiritual, political, and military endeavors. By no means was the Spirit’s work of organizing confined to ecclesial life. The Spirit endowed individuals with capacities for completing a variety of roles and projects, including those requiring trade and artistic skills. The Spirit granted wisdom and understanding for carrying out practical affairs of everyday living and leading. The Spirit guided people’s activities toward the telos of salvation characterized by holiness, justice, and peace. The prophets also recognized the Spirit as integrally involved in the liberation and reign coming under an anticipated messiah.25 Through this messiah, one exceptionally anointed by the Spirit, the Spirit would become available to all people with unprecedented liberality.

We find the Spirit figuring prominently in Jesus’ life and ministry.26 Endowed with the Spirit, Jesus proclaimed the presence of God’s reign through prophetic teaching and miraculous works—particularly among poor and oppressed people. The interrelationship of Christ and the Spirit takes on a further dimension in the identification of Jesus as the one who baptizes others with the Spirit.27 The ministries of Christ and the Spirit are inseparable and without subordination.28 By the power of the Spirit, Jesus started a new social movement: his Church.29

The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost activated the Church, and the Spirit’s abiding presence led and empowered its subsequent ministry. As Zizioulas writes, “The Spirit is not something that ‘animates’ a Church which already somehow exists. The Spirit makes the Church be.”30 The Spirit brings together diverse people and directs the moral quality of their interpersonal relationships toward benevolence. Jesus’ followers formed local communities devoted to prayer, teaching and learning, fellowship (including shared meals), and care for one another and the needy. Through the Church, expressions of the work of the Spirit proliferated. The Church performed miraculous signs in continuity with Christ’s ministry. The Spirit enabled proclamation of the gospel, accompanying signs and wonders, and spiritual conversions. The gift of the Spirit, along with accompanying diverse and complementary spiritual gifts, equipped and enlivened the Church. The presence of the Spirit encouraged and gave hope in the midst of difficulties within the Church and persecution from outside.

Theological writings on pneumatology build upon the biblical description of the work of the Spirit in Israel, Jesus, and the Church. This section identifies and elaborates three interrelated pneumatological themes relevant to management and organizing: relationality, mission, and illumination. Figure 1 provides an overview of key aspects of each theme.


The Bible records the Spirit’s intimate involvement with people—individually and collectively. We cannot argue for the priority of either the individual or the social collective, for the biblical material depicts the Spirit’s involvement with individuals, groups, and societies.31 The Spirit works within people individually for the sake of relating people to one another, thereby forming community. At the same time, the Spirit working through a community transforms the lives of individuals. The theme of relationality runs throughout the work of the Spirit.32 Johnson summarizes, “What is immediately striking is that there is no possible aspect of the Spirit of God, either ad intra or ad extra, that can be spoken about without factoring in the idea of relation in an essential way.”33

The Spirit is involved in an integral way in establishing social relationships and affecting their enacted qualities. Consistent with the Trinitarian nature of God, the Spirit produces communion.34 The Spirit broadly distributes diverse charisms (spiritual gifts) that provide the basis for relational complementarity in collective activities.35 The Spirit invites everyone into this charismatic ministry, each person contributing to the community through practicing gifts given by the Spirit.36 The preeminent quality of social relationships within the charismatic community is agape (altruistic love). The qualities of such relationships—including joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance—distinguish the fellowship of the Spirit from competitive and conflictual ways of relating that often characterize cultures.37 Where the Holy Spirit is acting among people there is a collective likeness to Jesus Christ.

From a normative Christian view, work is meant to be cooperation with the Spirit.38 People’s participation in the Spirit’s creative activity in the world affirms the joint agency of humans and the Spirit. Human agency is a provision of the Spirit who gives life, abilities, and freedom to people. The scope of human freedom encompasses possible responses to the Spirit’s activity that range from rebellion to indifference to exuberant collaboration. A backward-looking (protological) view connects human work to the Spirit’s activity in history as originator and sustainer of creation; a forward-looking (eschatological) view focuses on our participation in the Spirit’s ongoing and intended transformation of creation.39 Human work— including the social processes of founding and managing organizations—derives significance in relation to the Spirit.

Characterizing the nature of the divine-human relationship is a core issue in pneumatology that carries practical implications. Characterizing this relationship, Heitink writes, “Divine action does not do away with human action but makes it possible. … God’s Spirit uses the gifts that are inherent in our humanness.”40 Similarly, Volf understands the impartation of charisms according to an “interaction model” whereby

A person who is shaped by her genetic heritage and social interaction faces the challenge of a new situation as she lives in the presence of God and learns to respond to it in a new way. This is what it means to acquire a new spiritual gift. No substance or quality has been added to her, but a more or less permanent skill has been learned.41

Some of the language used by Heitink and Volf tilts toward portraying people as the holders of gifts that the Spirit uses, but direct or even disproportionate attribution toward either the human (natural) or divine (supernatural) violates a truly interactional perspective. Veenhof endorses an “interaction model” of charisms that stresses their occurrence through divine-human relationship. 42 Synergism characterizes this relationship. As dynamic manifestations of the Spirit through people, charisms combine divine and human activity.43 Enabling by the Spirit is inseparable from relationship with the Spirit.

In management writings, Weber’s perspective on charisma as an exceptional leadership trait that followers attribute to divine origin has replaced an understanding based on cooperation with the Spirit.44 In Weber’s view, the individual leader is the locus of charisma. Because there often is no similarly gifted successor, transitions in leadership are problematic; they introduce destabilizing discontinuities in the expressed charisma. Routinization of charisma—establishment of practices, processes, and structures reflecting a particular charismatic leader’s idiosyncratic approach—occurs as a response to this leadership succession dilemma. This understanding of charisma as a trait residing in individuals or an attribution to leaders made by followers omits divine-human relationality. The contrasting perspective offered here is that the locus of charisma is the divine-human inter-action: people and the Spirit jointly express charismatic gifts. The continuity of charisma depends not primarily on the charismatic individual but on ongoing divine-human synergy. The relational nature of charisma negates perpetuation of spiritual gifts merely through social processes of institutionalization.

Early church history provides examples of human leadership that was charismatic through divine guidance and enabling.45 Weber’s juxtaposition of charisma and institutionalization did not apply.46 Instead, charisma and institutionalization were mutually supportive. Charismatic and structural aspects of the Church complemented one another in the dynamics of the early Church and this continues to be the normative pattern for the Church’s functioning today.47 Organizations establish practices and structure but need not succumb to institutionalization, understood as valuing practices and structure for their own sake,48 if organizing centers around the Spirit’s activity. The Church is meant to be a responsive social system always open to the Spirit’s initiative. Its structure should encourage and facilitate the expression of spiritual gifts. This norm applies to all social organizing.


The Spirit’s activity in the world expresses the missio Dei—God’s mission.49 The term “mission” conveys a sense of God’s dynamic activity in the world—particularly toward people through the Spirit, Son, and Church. This involvement in the world moves all creation toward God’s intended horizon and invites people to join in God’s unfolding purpose. Newbigin emphasizes the primacy of the Spirit in mission:

Mission is not simply the self-propagation of the church by putting forth of the power that inheres in its life. To accept that picture would be to sanction an appalling distortion of mission. On the contrary, the active agent of mission is a power that rules, guides, and goes before the church: the free, sovereign, living power of the Spirit of God. Mission is not just something that the church does; it is something that is done by the Spirit, who is himself the witness, who changes both the world and the church, who always goes before the church in its missionary journey.50

Because the mission is God’s, it does not originate with the Church, nor is its scope confined to the institutional Church.51

The Spirit initiates, guides, and empowers people for action that accords with God’s intention for the world.52 The missio Dei establishes the dynamic context in which human work, social movements, and organizing can be understood in relation to the Spirit’s activity. The Church engages in mission through humble obedience expressing its submission to the Spirit. This understanding of the Church’s calling ties together the themes of mission and relationality: “The passion for mission is the passion of relationship, and relationship is defined not by being and doing ‘for,’ but being and doing ‘with’.”53

The Spirit works in and through the Church because the Church has a unique role to fulfill within God’s mission, yet the Spirit also establishes and redeems the social order beyond the Church as both the end and means of this mission.

Nation building, earth keeping, ecological action, education, preserving and transforming culture, enhancing the quality of life, cultivation of the arts—all these are the fields of activity for those who are given to the Spirit.54

From a biblical perspective, social structure is never merely a human phenomenon; society involves people in spiritual purposes—whether for good or evil. In ancient Israel, the authority roles of prophet, priest, and king were established to express the Spirit’s participation in different facets of the life of God’s people, yet corrupting spiritual influences often obstructed this purpose. In response, God works to redeem people from oppressive spiritual powers operating within the social structure.55 God’s redemptive mission has within its purview all social structures.

When God’s mission transforms social structures, liberation occurs. Drawing from Hebrew Scripture, Welker identifies the Spirit at work in delivering people out of collective distress and sin through restoration of community solidarity and capacity for collective action.56 Liberation from entrapment and powerlessness advances with the coming of Jesus and His kingdom and continues in the Church. The Spirit both liberates people and sustains their freedom.57 Arguing from biblical and subsequent history, and recent experience in Latin America, Comblin sees the work of the Spirit in speech against injustice, newfound freedom from domination, and capacity for action that builds and advances community.58 The Spirit brings into community and leadership people on the margin who are weak and oppressed. Attributes of the Spirit such as life-giving, gracious, loving, and relational support the liberation and empowerment of women.59 By implication, human liberation and perpetual freedom characterize social organizing with the Spirit.

Allowing that God’s mission encompasses all of creation alerts us to the Spirit’s involvement in nature. In view of the Spirit’s presence and activity in all life forms, Wallace proposes “…an ‘ecological pneumatology’ in which the boundaries that separate the human from the nonhuman order are blurred by the Spirit’s challenge to our nature-indifferent (even nature-hostile) definitions of selfhood.”60 Appreciation of the coinherence of Spirit and earth contrasts with treatment of nature as “dumb matter” having only instrumental value. Wallace reasons, “If Spirit and earth mutually indwell each other, then God as Spirit is vulnerable to loss and destruction insofar as the earth is abused and despoiled.”61 Although maintaining the distinction between the Spirit and the material realm, Wallace’s perspective tends beyond panentheism toward pantheism.62 Nevertheless, his provocative proposal illustrates how an ontology that acknowledges the Spirit in the world evokes ethical concern for the environment. Even if we reject Wallace’s tendency toward pantheism, we can still support his ethical intent by acknowledging that God’s mission includes the redemption of all creation.63

Although often discussed in terms of its implications for the institutional Church, the missio Dei should orient all God’s people in the full range of their involvements with the world at large. As such, God’s mission serves as a general motif for social organizing. An appreciation for God’s mission provides a hermeneutical perspective from which to understand the trajectory of history and the present context.64 God’s mission clarifies individual and collective identity and purpose, motivates social organizing, and guides organizational strategies. To organize with the Spirit is to participate in the dynamic missio Dei.


The Spirit’s work in fostering relationships and advancing the missio Dei affords no opportunity for human collaboration if people recognize it only in retrospect. For us to participate in God’s mission as it unfolds dynamically, we need the Spirit’s ongoing guidance.65 The Spirit’s revelation of truth must be timely and situational. Only when coupled with the Spirit’s illumination can we derive practical implications for personal involvement and social organizing from the Spirit’s relationality and mission. We depend upon the Spirit’s guidance for ongoing interpretation of the circumstances of our lives in the light of God’s intention for the world.

This posture of looking to the Spirit for understanding and guidance does not so much displace secular hermeneutics and epistemology as it does provide a meta-hermeneutic or meta-epistemology that incorporates and relativizes the many ways that people come to understanding and truth claims. In other words, the rationality expressed in seeking to understand by the Spirit incorporates and augments other forms of human rationality. Such an approach is empirical, seeking understanding based on experience and evidence.66 It includes gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data to draw conclusions that carry implications for individual and collective action. Methods for gathering and analyzing data may come from the sciences, yet data and analytical results are never self-interpreting; there remains a need for the Spirit’s guidance. We should interpret empirical situations through theological reflection that brings together the biblical text, Christian tradition, theories, and empirical data, and prayerfully seeks the Spirit’s illumination.67 Engaging in theological reflection expresses faith that the Spirit will lead us into truthful understanding despite the fallibility of our epistemic practices.

The hermeneutical role of the Spirit often comes up in discussions of methods for interpreting the Bible where the Spirit provides illumination to arrive at meaning and application. However, the Spirit’s illumination is not limited to the interpretation of texts. Like texts, human actions in social settings require interpretation to attribute meaning.68 Charisms such as wisdom, understanding, prophecy, and discernment extend the Spirit’s hermeneutical role to the interpretation of social situations. These gifts provide fresh ways of understanding situations that extend beyond human reasoning. Stimulating the imagination is a means by which the Spirit aids interpretation and brings to mind creative responses.69 The hermeneutical role of the Spirit responds to our basic need for understanding and guidance in complex and uncertain situations. Trusting the Spirit ensures that people, operating from their situated and fallible perspectives and facing situations with indeterminate meaning, are not the ultimate arbiters of truth.

John Taylor portrays the Spirit as the mediator who raises our awareness of situations.70 Openness to God, other people, and the world are interrelated through the intervention of the Spirit. The Spirit reveals not by bypassing human perceptions and cognition, but by heightening and augmenting them. The divine Spirit and human faculties complement each other in experiences that disclose physical, social, and spiritual reality: “The spirit of man is that facility which enables each of us to be truly present to another. The Spirit of God is that power of communion which enables every other reality, and the God who is within and behind all realities, to be present to us.”71 Spirit-enabled awareness and receptivity are antidotes to the psychic numbing that can occur in response to the complexity, dangers, and lies of contemporary society.72 Openness to people and the world calls for virtues such as sympathy and empathy; hence, our capacity to apprehend what is going on in our setting has ethical and spiritual dimensions.

The Spirit endows the Church to be a prophetic community.73 In keeping with this gift and calling, our participation in social organizing should be characterized by attentiveness to the Spirit’s revelation, which is central to a prophetic epistemology.74 Recipients of divine revelation must remain open to new under- standings—even those that refute their own or prevailing social views. What particularly distinguishes the character of prophets is “sympathy with the divine pathos, a communion with the divine consciousness which comes about through the prophet’s reflection of, or participation in, the divine pathos.”75 Receptivity to divine revelation forms the character and action, as well as the understanding, of a prophetic community. As a safeguard, the validity of prophecies should be tested with others in the settings in which they emerge and in dialogue with outsiders.76 In this way, prophecy operates not as the final word but as a contribution to an ongoing dialogical learning process.

Discernment complements prophecy. “Discernment is a process of sorting, distinguishing, evaluating, and sifting among competing stimuli, demands, longings, desires, needs, and influences, in order to determine which are of God and which are not.”77 Discernment distinguishes the Spirit from other spirits within particular situations.78 The freedom of the Spirit gives rise to the ongoing need for discernment. Discernment calls for openness to being surprised by the timing, place, and ways of the Spirit.79 Because the Spirit is free to defy past patterns, discernment relies upon the Spirit’s illumination.

Discerning the Spirit’s guidance takes place within a community of giftedness in which individuals’ contributions complement one another. Discernment in community calls for confidence that agreement about truth and direction emerges from open conversation under the Spirit’s guidance.80 Participants in a discernment process jointly submit to the governance of the Spirit: “[C]ommunities of giftedness are neither autocratic (the rule of one) nor democratic (the rule [of] the people) but pneumocratic (the rule of the Holy Spirit).”81 Discerning in community supports but does not ensure the truthfulness of the resulting understanding. Experience reveals the fallibility of communal discernment processes. Pinnock urges, “Let us be hopeful because the Spirit leads us and realistic because of our fallibility and proneness to error. Both progression and regression occur in the development of our understanding.”82

Organizing as Spirituality

The work that characterizes entrepreneurship and management is organizing social and material arrangements to attain some ends. Organizing establishes participating individuals’ activities, interdependent relationships, and intended outcomes. The unique role of managers involves taking responsibility for the actions of the individuals who make up an organization and the aggregate actions of the organization as a whole within its context. In other words, managers organize both operations and overall strategy.

Managers work within social imaginaries.83 Their actions express their implicit, and largely tacit, philosophies in use. The secular social imaginary takes the world to be disenchanted84 and this imaginary shapes current management discourse and practice.85 In contrast, Judeo-Christian tradition asserts God’s presence in the world and relevance to social organizing. This claim goes beyond acknowledging human spirituality as a cause of organizational outcomes; it considers God’s Spirit as an active and essential agent in social organizing processes. A focus on pneumatology invites management scholars and practitioners to adopt a social ontology that acknowledges God’s active presence. Work with people and resources is where the Spirit moves, and awareness of the Spirit’s active presence can stimulate managers’ imaginations in ways that secular thinking cannot.86 Pneumatology raises the possibility that management theories and practices may advance by asking how the Spirit matters to organizations. It commends research that takes seriously personal testimonies to God’s role in the work accomplished in organizations.87

Whether social imaginaries persist or change depends more on their expression in practices and the internalization of associated norms and passions than on statements of theory.88 Drawing upon pneumatology as a basis for theorizing about organizations requires a high level of abstraction relative to managers’ perceived needs and interests, but this conceptual background supports particular spiritual practices. The earlier discussions of illumination and liberation pointed out the role of the Spirit in managers’ epistemic and ethical practices. Practices such as prayer, theological reflection, prophecy, and communal discernment encourage attentiveness to the Spirit. Spirit-enabled practices of truth telling, stewardship, hospitality, justice, forgiveness, peacemaking, encouragement, mentoring, and service encompass key aspects of leading people and managing organizations effectively. Through connections to practice, theologically-informed theories can support profound change in organizations.89

Discussions in the management literature often locate spirituality in organizational members, thereby limiting spirituality to a social psychological phenomenon. Such an anthropological position on spirituality differs from a relational spirituality centered on divine-human encounters.90 To claim that members’ spirituality influences organizations falls short of claiming that the Spirit is active in organizations; the former is a sociological claim, the latter is theological. Relational spirituality is a social phenomenon, but not merely so. The central defining characteristic of this spirituality is relationship to God. People express relational spirituality through attentiveness to and concurrence with the Spirit. As Fee summarizes, “One is spiritual to the degree that one lives in and walks by the Spirit; in Scripture the word has no other meaning, and no other measure.”91 Spirituality’s primary attribute is I-You relationality that acknowledges and participates in the life of the Spirit who is “wholly other” than ourselves yet, as Buber puts it, “wholly present” and “closer to me than my own I.”92 A managerial spirituality informed by pneumatology expresses ongoing relationship with the Spirit through practices that affirm that the Spirit accompanies, guides, and enables those involved in the interpersonal process of organizing.

Attentiveness to the Spirit is the primary focus expressed in this spirituality. How do you practice such attentiveness? Welcome the companionship and guidance of the Spirit while engaging in the daily social and material aspects of organizing. Be alert to God’s presence in what is unfolding right now. Notice the Spirit’s work within you, as well as around you. As Tozer admonishes, “Cultivate the art of recognizing the presence of the Spirit everywhere.”93 Be mindful of the sacred (God’s gracious provision and orchestration) in daily events and conversations.94 Ask, what is God’s Spirit saying and doing, and how can I participate? And remain open to the Spirit’s surprises, His doing something differently or new.95 In action and reflection, acknowledge the Spirit; in so doing, you consciously experience life as a dynamic relationship with God.96

The interpretive work of discerning the Spirit’s activity and intent is personal and communal. Most importantly, the Spirit assists us in our discerning.97 Prayer, study, and reflection can be pursued individually or collectively as discernment practices done in relationship to the Spirit. Personal and communal discernment practices open organizational leaders to the Spirit’s illumination and sanctification.98 Even if your organizational setting does not support spiritual practices of discernment, you can find conversation partners within the Christian community and adopt discernment practices from its traditions. You can confront organizational issues with an understanding that God intends to transform those involved personally and corporately as they respond to the situation. Commitment to discerning by the Spirit’s enabling and joining in what the Spirit is doing distinguishes spiritual leadership from secular leadership.99

Managers and entrepreneurs can approach their work expecting to find not just suitable human talents, but diverse and complementary charisms attributable neither to humans nor to the Spirit alone but to their collaborative interaction.100 Organizing with the Spirit forms communities of diverse and complementary giftedness. The resulting relational interdependence provides a setting for expressing benevolence, not just economic transactions based upon comparative advantage within a division of labor. The Spirit motivates and empowers virtuous practices in social relationships.101 This perspective on social organizing rejects confinement of the Spirit’s ministry to the institutional Church. To the extent that the Church operates by the Spirit, it bears witness to a possibility intended for all of society. The social imaginary and practices of the Church led and empowered by the Spirit are normative for organizing in all social contexts.

Acknowledging the Spirit’s involvement in social organizing challenges the anthropocentrism that pervades the field of management. More than just human interests and abilities frame our possibilities for collective social action. Organizing with the Spirit involves people in God’s mission. Following the Spirit involves setting aside striving for human control. As Comblin notes, “Life in the Spirit does not unfold in the calm of the already known; it is a life of risk-taking, accepting the challenges of the unknown.”102 The Spirit is not reducible to a means to accomplish human interests. Instead, we submit ourselves to God and view organizations as contexts for living in obedience to the Spirit. Our human aspirations for peace, liberation, and ecological sustainability find fulfillment in the Spirit’s work to extend the reign of Christ Jesus.

Distinguishing relationality, mission, and illumination facilitates exposition and analysis, but these three aspects of the Spirit’s organizing are inseparably interrelated (as depicted earlier in Figure 1). Relationality, mission, and illumination originate and cohere in the unity of God. As already elaborated, illumination is for the sake of relationality and mission, but it is equally true that relationality is for illumination (in a prophetic community) and involvement in mission is the context for receiving illumination. Likewise, illumination and mission serve to organize people relationally. Relationships in which the Spirit guides are the way that mission happens and mission opens new relationships. The interdependence of relationality, mission, and illumination is seen in each being simultaneously means and ends in relations to the other two.

If we understand “sacraments” as human actions in which God acts,103 then organizing with the Spirit is sacramental. Sacraments hold together the material and spiritual.104 They are occasions for personal encounters with God.105 We need to appreciate the Spirit’s integral involvement with humanity to perceive the sacramental nature of social organizing. Organizing can manifest materially and socially the Spirit’s presence and gracious work among people. In contrast, ontological naturalism or Spirit-matter dualism obstructs any vision for synergistic divine-human interaction. Cooperating with the Spirit who works in and through our lives bears witness to an alternative to thinking and practices that assert humanity’s autonomy. Organizing as participation in the life and work of the Spirit redeems the practice of management by transforming it into a sacramental act of worship.106

Cite this article
Kent D. Miller, “Organizing with the Spirit”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 46:3 , 213-232


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  32. Ibid., ch. 7.
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  86. Lee E. Snook, What in the World is God Doing?: Re-imagining Spirit and Power (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1999).
  87. An example of this kind of research is Kari A. O’Grady, “The Role of Inspiration in Organizational Life,” Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion 8 (2011): 257-272.
  88. James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009); and Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries.
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  92. Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1970), 127.
  93. A. W. Tozer, Life in the Spirit (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), 36.
  94. See Ken Gire, Seeing What is Sacred: Becoming More Spiritually Sensitive to Everyday Moments of Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006).
  95. James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), ch. 2.
  96. Stephen B. Clark, Charismatic Spirituality: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Practice (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger), ch. 2.
  97. Gorringe, Discerning Spirit, ch. 2.
  98. Ruth Haley Barton, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).
  99. J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago, IL: Moody), ch. 10.
  100. eenhoff, “Charismata—Supernatural or Natural?”
  101. Guder, Missional Church, ch. 6; and Kenneson, Life on the Vine.
  102. Comblin, Holy Spirit and Liberation, 128.
  103. Yoder, Body Politics, ch. 6.
  104. Pinnock, Flame of Love, ch. 4.
  105. Frank D. Maccia, “Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 15 (1993): 61-76.
  106. The author thanks Inagrace Dietterich, Bruno Dyck, Emanuel Gomes, Jack Levison, Peter Snyder, seminar participants at Seattle Pacific University, and the anonymous CSR reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Kent D. Miller

Michigan State University
Kent D Miller is Professor of Management at Michigan State University.